Most people who start in improv become obsessed by this art from. We take every class we can afford. We perform in every show humanly possible. We eat like crap and get little sleep. We think the more we obsess, the more it will make us better. We tell ourselves that is what successful artists do. We think this is how we get ahead.
But in fact, being obsessed with improv is not really going to get us anywhere. Great artists are present when they create. Obsession is the enemy. There’s no way you can truly be in the moment when you’re trying to control the future.
When we’re obsessed with getting better, we’re not trusting are own talent, God, The Universe, The Muse… whatever you call it. Our obsessive thoughts jam up the spiritual signals that the Universe is trying to send us so they can’t get reach us. We think working hard on our craft will bring us great comfort and security, when the opposite is true.
Every time I get involved in a project, from my first Harold team at iO back in the ’80s to my podcast Improv Nerd to the hundreds of projects I’ve done in between, I obsess about it, and I can tell you from experience that not one minute of this obsessing has helped me get ahead in my career.
Lately I have been obsessing about my current one-person show, “World’s Greatest Dad(?).”
I’ve performed it the last two Saturdays, and every single day, I am either running lines in my head or thinking of new jokes to add the show. My head is tuned in to one station 24 hours a day, seven day a week, and I can’t shut it off.
Then last Saturday, several hours before my next show, I was sitting in a meeting, not paying attention. Instead of listening, my thoughts were focused on World’s Greatest Dad(?), when it hit me like a two-by-four across my forehead why I obsess. I do it to kill the joy. To ruin the fun. And it comes from a deep-down insecurity that I am not enough. That I am never prepared enough. That my project must be perfect so you think I am perfect and then I am worthy of adulation.
Having that insight had a profound impact on the show that night. I was finally able to stop worrying and start trusting myself and the show more.
I actually had fun doing the show, something I had not experienced until that night.
I realize that there is a fine line between obsessing about something enough to be prepared and not obsessing so much that it consumes every waking moment of your life. I don’t think I’ve reached a perfect balance yet, but I am just grateful that I now have awareness about it, which is the beginning to getting some help.